- You haven't wasted too much of your time and energy
- You are still healthy and motivated
- Your are still young and you don't feel guilty about starting all over (e.g. getting an unpaid internship)
- Usually, there a "golden parachute": you can quit after 2 years with a masters degree in hands. Some schools don't like students to get a masters instead of a PhD. This usually means that you got your masters for free. But there's very little that prevents you from doing so. What you can do is simply quit the PhD program and take a couple more classes to get your masters.
The longer you stay in the PhD program, the harder it becomes to quit. Here are some of the factors that make quitting hard:
- You feel guilty about writing off those 3-4-5 years... Actually, this may be a typical example of irrational economic thinking. Read about sunk cost in economics. The thing is that those years is a sunk cost. You will never be able to get those years back. If those years is a waste, there's no reason for putting more years into the degree. Here's a good analogy for your. Let's say you lost one million dollars in a casino. That money is a sunk cost: it's gone, you cannot get it back. So if you lost 1 million dollars, placing additional bets is not a good idea. Leaving the casino immediately is the best choice. Most PhD students are smart, but they can't understand this old and true principle. Emotions usually get into their way.
- The thought of staring everything over (e.g. getting an internship in your field) is very disturbing. Most people your age already have established careers, houses, families. You know you were smarter and more hard-working than those people. Yet you are forced to start working as their apprentice.
- You got brainwashed. You became persuaded that working long hours for minimum wage s the best deal in the world.
- You just don't want to change. You are afraid of the uncertainty. You realize that your life and career suck, but you are afraid of the unknown. You think it can be even worse if you quit.
- You have a low level of self-esteem. You had so much problems with your dissertation, you are not sure whether you can do well even working at a convenience store.